world model collapse
2 December 2004
Jay Forrester of MIT in 1970 built a world model "to understand the options available to mankind as societies enter the transition from growth to equilibrium."
What happens when growth approaches fixed limits and is forced to give way to some form of equilibrium? Are there choices before us that lead to alternative world futures? … Exponential growth does not continue forever. Growth of population and industrialization will stop. If man does not take conscious action to limit population and capital investment, the forces inherent in the natural and social system will rise high enough to limit growth. The question is only a matter of when and how growth will cease, not whether it will cease. (Forrester, 1971)
The basic behavior of Forrester's world model was overshoot and collapse. It projected that the material standard of living (MSL) would peak in 1990 and then decline through the year 2100. Moreover, measured by the MSL (i.e. the leading and lagging 30% points), the life expectancy of Industrial Civilization was about 210 years. (Forrester, 1971, Figure 4-2). He used the world model to search for social (i.e. cultural, "conscious action") policies for making the transition to sustainability.
In our social systems, there are no utopias. No sustainable modes of behavior are free of pressures and stresses. … But to develop the more promising modes will require restraint and dedication to a long-range future that man may not be capable of sustaining. Our greatest challenge now is how to handle the transition from growth into equilibrium. The industrial societies have behind them long traditions that have encouraged and rewarded growth. The folklore and the success stories praise growth and expansion. But that is not the path of the future. (ibid., 1971)
He found that sustainability could be achieved in the modeled world system when the following five social policies were applied together in 1970:
- Natural-resource-usage-rate reduced 75%
* Pollution generation reduced 50%
* Capital-investment generation reduced 40%
* Food production reduced 20%
* Birth rate reduced 30% (ibid., 1971)
Critics (mostly economists) argued that such policies were e.g. "blue sky" and "unrealistic". Fortunately, the project team was just then completing a two-year study using the more comprehensive 'World3' model. They too searched for social policies that might achieve sustainability in the world system. However, the World3 'reference run' (like Forrester's in 1971) also projected overshoot and collapse of the world system.
This is the World3 reference run, …. Both population POP and industrial output per capita IOPC grow beyond sustainable levels and subsequently decline. The cause of their decline is traceable to the depletion of nonrenewable resources. (Meadows, et al, 1972, Figure 35)
The World3 'reference run' (1972, above) projected that the industrial output per capita (IOPC) would reach its all-time peak in 2013 and then would steeply decline through 2100. Moreover, the duration of Industrial Civilization (as measured by the leading and lagging IOPC 30% points) came out to be about 105 years.
I first presented the Olduvai theory to the public in 1989.
* The broad sweep of human history can be divided into three phases.
* The first, or pre-industrial phase was a very long period of equilibrium when simple tools and weak machines limited economic growth.
* The second, or industrial phase was a very short period of non-equilibrium that ignited with explosive force when powerful new machines temporarily lifted all limits to growth.
* The third, or de-industrial phase lies immediately ahead during which time the industrial economies will decline toward a new period of equilibrium, limited by the exhaustion of nonrenewable resources and continuing deterioration of the natural environment. (Duncan, 1989)
In 1992, twenty years after the first World3 study, the team members re-calibrated the model with the latest data and used it to help "envision a sustainable future." But —
All that World3 has told us so far is that the model system, and by implication the "real world" system, has a strong tendency to overshoot and collapse. In fact, in the thousands of model runs we have tried over the years, overshoot and collapse has been by far the most frequent outcome. (Meadows, et al., 1992)
- when it happens
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- exponential growth
What happens when growth approaches fixed limits and is forced to give way to some form of equilibrium? Are there choices before us that lead to alternative world futures? … Exponential growth does not continue forever. Growth of population and industrialization will stop. If man does not take conscious action to limit population and capital investment, the forces inherent in the natural and social system will rise high enough to limit growth. The question is only a matter of when ...
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- when it happens